IBM’s New 3-D Game Challenges Students to Save a Dying Planet

IBM on Thursday unveiled a multiplayer 3-D virtual world and companion classroom materials designed to promote science and engineering education in high schools.

“PowerUp” — which asks players to try to save a planet in near ecological ruin — gets its public release Feb. 16 at the start of Engineer’s Week, an annual event designed to promote science education. Players can choose to play any of the three adventures alone or they can work in small teams. Along the way, they can also interact with IBM engineers who will appear in the game.

The game, developed with feedback from 200 teenagers in the Connecticut Innovation Academy, will have accompanying lesson plans and an interactive 3-D modeling kit for students.

“Learning through games and simulation is the way to engage tech-savy students today,” Michael Mino, a director with the Center for 21st Century Skills @ Education Connection, told TechNewsWorld. “If we have any hope of saving the ‘real world from real problems,’ we must embrace teaching students through computer games and virtual simulations.”

Games That Teach

Businesses and schools are increasingly turning to interactive worlds and simulations for training because the skills needed to succeed in these games are similar to the skills required to operate in a modern world, according to a 2006 report published at the Summit for Educational Games.

However, the simulations aren’t simply used for technical training. The U.S. Army uses “America’s Army” as a recruiting tool, giving prospective soldiers the opportunity to experience boot camp virtually. High schools are using “Civilization III” to teach history and geography. “Flight Simulator” has long been used by prospective pilots.

The idea is to allow students of all ages to make students active learners, interacting with knowledge instead of simply reading or listening.

The move toward online and simulation learning comes at a time when teenagers are increasingly playing computer games. Thirty-five percent of computer and game players are younger than 18, according to the Entertainment Software Association. It’s also coming as game play is nearing — and in some cases, surpassing — other entertainment forms.

Training Day

Still, education doesn’t simply mean middle schools and high schools. For businesses, training employees on new techniques is vital for success.

EON Reality, a 3-D imaging company, partnered with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System in January to create an Interactive Digital Center, where students are trained on virtual technologies and businesses can request training simulations. The group has already turned out a mining simulation that would train people how to heavy machinery used in rescues.

“Today’s technologies for (simulation-based learning) have greatly enhanced the learning environment, in which a person is placed into a scenario or situation and is directly responsible for changes that occur as a result of his or her decisions,” Marly Bergerud, EON Reality’s vice president for Education Development, told TechNewsWorld. “The recent developments in software, the Internet and virtual reality have created richer, more life-like learning experiences that truly change the way people learn.”

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